A Fish Story

: The Lilac Fairy Book

Perhaps you think that fishes were always fishes, and never lived

anywhere except in the water, but if you went to Australia and

talked to the black people in the sandy desert in the centre of

the country, you would learn something quite different. They

would tell you that long, long ago you would have met fishes on

the land, wandering from place to place, and hunting all sorts of

animals, and if you consider how fishe
are made, you will

understand how difficult this must have been and how clever they

were to do it. Indeed, so clever were they that they might have

been hunting still if a terrible thing had not happened.

One day the whole fish tribe came back very tired from a hunting

expedition, and looked about for a nice, cool spot in which to

pitch their camp. It was very hot, and they thought that they

could not find a more comfortable place than under the branches

of a large tree which grew by the bank of a river. So they made

their fire to cook some food, right on the edge of a steep bank,

which had a deep pool of water lying beneath it at the bottom.

While the food was cooking they all stretched themselves lazily

out under the tree, and were just dropping off to sleep when a

big black cloud which they had never noticed spread over the sun,

and heavy drops of rain began to fall, so that the fire was

almost put out, and that, you know, is a very serious thing in

savage countries where they have no matches, for it is very hard

to light it again. To make matters worse, an icy wind began to

blow, and the poor fishes were chilled right through their


'This will never do,' said Thuggai, the oldest of the fish tribe.

'We shall die of cold unless we can light the fire again,' and he

bade his sons rub two sticks together in the hope of kindling a

flame, but though they rubbed till they were tired, not a spark

could they produce.

'Let me try,' cried Biernuga, the bony fish, but he had no better

luck, and no more had Kumbal, the bream, nor any of the rest.

'It is no use,' exclaimed Thuggai, at last. 'The wood is too wet.

We must just sit and wait till the sun comes out again and dries

it.' Then a very little fish indeed, not more than four inches

long and the youngest of the tribe, bowed himself before Thuggai,

saying, 'Ask my father, Guddhu the cod, to light the fire. He is

skilled in magic more than most fishes.' So Thuggai asked him,

and Guddhu stripped some pieces of bark off a tree, and placed

them on top of the smouldering ashes. Then he knelt by the side

of the fire and blew at it for a long while, till slowly the

feeble red glow became a little stronger and the edges of the

bark showed signs of curling up. When the rest of the tribe saw

this they pressed close, keeping their backs towards the piercing

wind, but Guddhu told them they must go to the other side, as he

wanted the wind to fan his fire. By and by the spark grew into a

flame, and a merry crackling was heard.

'More wood,' cried Guddhi, and they all ran and gathered wood and

heaped it on the flames, which leaped and roared and sputtered.

'We shall soon be warm now,' said the people one to another.

'Truly Guddhu is great'; and they crowded round again, closer and

closer. Suddenly, with a shriek, a blast of wind swept down from

the hills and blew the fire out towards them. They sprang back

hurriedly, quite forgetting where they stood, and all fell down

the bank, each tumbling over the other, till they rolled into the

pool that lay below. Oh, how cold it was in that dark water on

which the sun never shone! Then in an instant they felt warm

again, for the fire, driven by the strong wind, had followed them

right down to the bottom of the pool, where it burned as brightly

as ever. And the fishes gathered round it as they had done on the

top of the cliff, and found the flames as hot as before, and that

fire never went out, like those upon land, but kept burning for

ever. So now you know why, if you dive deep down below the cold

surface of the water on a frosty day, you will find it

comfortable and pleasant underneath, and be quite sorry that you

cannot stay there.

Australian Folk Tale.